South Korea is one of the dream country destination of most Filipinos, especially those who are fans of K-pop and K-dramas, and I’m one of them. Since I started to hooked myself in watching Korean dramas and movies, I’ve always dreamed of visiting the Land of Oppas. But for Filipinos who have a weak passport, visa is required in visiting the country. Well, for those who can comply with the necessary documents in the embassy, it’ll be easy. And for those who have no time to acquire the needed documents, there’s still a chance to visit South Korea without visa. Their Jeju Island doesn’t require visa for Philippine passport holders, as long as they fly direct to Jeju International Airport.
I was very lucky that I got the chance to travel to Jeju Island four years ago. My travel was courtesy of my own Oppa, my Korean fiancé. Since I didn’t have much time to apply for a visa, I grabbed the chance to try their visa-free Jeju Island. However, there’s no direct flight from Manila to Jeju Island, but there are two ways to get there. First is to join a packaged tour with a designated travel agency that charters direct flights via Philippine Airlines. Second is to book a flight to Jeju from Manila with stop-over at Hong Kong International Airport, there are multiple airlines available with this flight. Since I didn’t want to join in a package tour because it’s uncomfortable for me and a bit costly, I tried the latter way.
I booked a flight in Cathay Pacific Airway with a stop-over in Hong Kong. After more than an hour flight from Manila, I touched down in the busy airport of Hong Kong. The stop-over was only more than an hour so waiting time wasn’t a big hassle. From there, I boarded a different plane which is the sister of Cathay Pacific, the Cathay Dragon Air.
Since I was traveling alone, I felt a little nervous because it was my first time in a flight with very few Filipinos on board. There were only like four Filipinos including me on that flight, mostly were Chinese. After roughly more than three hours of flight, at last, I set my foot for the first time in South Korea.
Jeju International Airport is not busy like other aiports. It’s already late in the evening when our plane arrived and I heard the crew that we were the last flight to arrived in Jeju. My next challenge to face was the immigration queue, though I don’t need a visa to entry, I still felt nervous.
The immigration officer asked me whether I speak Korean (which I don’t that time) and other questions related to my travel. They even invited me in their office when they weren’t satisfied on my answers and introduced me to an officer who speak a little English. They asked for my other identifications and hotel reservation. So I showed them my hotel booking and my government ID. When they saw my ID as a professional teacher, they were convinced. They said they’re just wondering why I travel alone and not with the usual group package tour, so I said I was invited by my Korean fiancé, who that time was waiting for me outside the airport. I gave my fiancé’s contact number for them to call and verify. After talking to my fiancé over the phone, at last the officer stamped my passport and let me out.
When I went to the baggage claim area, I was the only passenger left there and my luggage was the only one left on the baggage carousel. It was indeed a very unforgettable airport moment in my life. I know that the Korean immigration officers were just doing their job, but I still felt uncomfortable, knowing that it’s supposed to be a visa-free place.
At that very moment, I didn’t know whether being a Filipino is a perk or not. I was with mixed emotions: sad, embarrassed, happy. I just felt relieved when I saw my fiancé patiently waiting for me outside the airport. It’s almost midnight and my Jeju Island journey will start the next morning.